How does Stephen Crane use situational irony to heighten the impact of his poem "War is Kind"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that verbal irony is more relevant to a discussion of this excellent poem, as really, in giving the poem the title "War is Kind" Crane is saying exactly the opposite. I suppose situational irony could be relevant if we think about the expectations that the title gives us and the way that the poem then defies every single one of those expectations, ironically presenting war in all of its horror and terror. Perhaps this shift from the expectations of the title to the true subject of the poem is most evident in the second stanza:

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,

Little souls who thirst for flight,

These men were bron to drill and die.

Tjhe unexplained glory flies above them,

Great is the Battle-God, great, and his Kingdom--

A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Note how in this stanza Crane uses the formal elevated diction of prayer, speaking of the "Battle-God" and of his kingdom. Yet the final line of this stanza abruptly switched to blunt, unadorned language as this "Kingdom" is described as "a field where a thousand corpses lie." The sudden shock that this shift in tone gives us a massive jolt and helps communicate the sadness and anger of the author at the waste of life caused by war. The irony in this poem therefore relates to the title and its repetition through the poem, and how Crane is saying that war is actually anything but "kind."

jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Verbal irony is when a word is used to mean the exact opposite of its normal meaning.  When I was in college, I had a very tall friend who was known by the nickname "Tiny"; that is an example of verbal irony.

Stephen Crane uses verbal irony in his poem "War is Kind."  "War is Kind" is not only the title of the poem; it is also its refrain, as it is repeated five times.  The verbal irony is that the poem is about the cruelty and brutality of war, not about its kindness.

The poem describes three people who have lost loved ones to war: a "maiden," a "babe" and a mother.  The poem includes some rather gruesome descriptions of war.  For example, the poem mentions "A field where a thousand corpses lie"; he also describes a soldier who "tumbled in the yellow trenches, / Raged at his breast, gulped and died."

The poet even mocks the soldiers for being "Little souls who thirst for fight," who are "born to drill and die."

Yet the refrain of "War is kind" is repeated again and again.  It is clear that the poet means just the opposite--that war is brutal, senseless and gruesome.

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War Is Kind

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